Grits take aim at Tories’ minimum sentences

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at the University of Waterloo earlier this week.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at the University of Waterloo earlier this week.

The Trudeau government is reviewing the laws around mandatory minimum sentences, following the Supreme Court of Canada ruling that two federal laws from the previous Conservative government’s tough-on-crime agenda are both unconstitutional.
This will bring an end to rules for minimum sentences for specific drug crime convictions and limits on credit for pre-trial detention in certain conditions where bail is denied, giving trial judges more leeway in how they deal with offenders.
The top court in both decisions said Parliament has the right to set laws to maintain public safety but the rules should not be so overly broad that they capture offenders whose incarceration would benefit neither themselves nor the public.
“There are situations where mandatory minimums are relevant,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at an event in Waterloo recently.
“The Liberal Party of the past in government brought in mandatory minimums around serious crimes like murder but at the same time there is a general sense, reinforced by the Supreme Court decision today, that mandatory minimums brought in by the previous government in a number of cases went too far. This is what we are reflecting on.”
In a 6-3 ruling, the high court said a mandatory one-year minimum sentence for a drug crime when the offender has a similar charge on their record constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of Section 12 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Only twice before has the court found mandatory minimums to violate that particular section of the Charter.
The majority ruled that mandatory minimums in this instance cast too wide a net and catch conduct that can range from a “cold-blooded trafficker of hard drugs for profit” to someone who shares a small amount of marijuana with friends.
Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, writing for the majority, said that in the latter instance “most Canadians would be shocked to find that such a person could be sent to prison for one year.”
The case surrounded addict Joseph Ryan Lloyd, convicted in September 2014 of three counts of possessing crack, methamphetamine and heroin for the purpose of trafficking in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. He also had a 2012 trafficking charge.
The provincial court ruled that while the appropriate sentence for Lloyd was one year, the mandatory minimum sentence constituted cruel and unusual punishment and violated the Charter.
The Supreme Court also unanimously agreed to strike down provisions passed in 2009 that prohibited a trial judge from giving more than one-for-one credit for pre-trial detention if a justice of the peace denied bail to the person because of a previous conviction.